Part Two: All of us, political leaders in the East, have failed to serve our people properly, says Senator Abaribe

In a sweeping review of the performance of elected officials from the South East, Senate minority leader confessed that all of the political leaders from the Eastern part of Nigeria have failed to serve the people of the region properly. He made the admission while talking with Rudolf Okonkwo of Irokopost TV. He insisted that the governors, as well as other elected members in the states and national assemblies could do more.

The Senator representing Abia South lamented that, essentially, there is no coordination or relationship between people from the East at the National Assembly and those at the National Executive Council. “It is one of my biggest regrets — that we don’t come together to meet and to agree on things,” Mr. Abaribe said. “And the reason is simple, too. Most of the (federal executive council) members from the South East are from a different political party. And so they see us not as brothers and sisters. So you call them for a meeting; sometimes they don’t come. Also they are scared. There is a culture of fear inside this party called APC… They tend to do whatever their ‘Supreme Leader’ says.”

He said that Igbo members of the Federal Executive Council do not fight for the Igbo and as such allow plans like the $22.7 bn loan to pass the executive council without any of the projects designated for the loan going to the East. As a result, by the time some government plans get to the National Assembly there is little the delegate from the East could do to change it.

When asked why he is usually seen confronting the federal government on the plight of the Igbo but has not been seen demanding good governance from governors of states in Eastern Nigeria, Mr. Abaribe said that his approach is to spend his energy chasing the hawk away before cautioning the wayward chick.

“We have an existential problem coming from the federal government, giving us so much problems,” he said. “And I think that if you are firing that side and firing locally, you just waste so much bullets.”

He disclosed that he tries not to publicly criticize governors from the East but would confront them in private when they disappoint him. “If you do it, those people outside will use that to now say to you, what are you complaining about after all you are just telling us that this man is also not doing well,” he stated. “I will not formally come out to attack any Igbo governor. I won’t do that.”

On matters of unfairness to the East, such as the number of states in each geopolitical zone, political appointments, and others, Mr. Abaribe said that members of the National Assembly from other geopolitical zones do not feel such glaring injustices. “When matters affect the Igbos in Nigeria, every other part of Nigeria wants to come together to oppress the Igbos,” he stated. “Because they would rather resolve their issues using the Igbo heads than resolving it on their own.”

Senator Abaribe defended the budget of the National Assembly. He revealed it has never been more than 3% of the national budget. He said that at one point when Sanusi Lamido Sanusi was the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, that the budget of the Judiciary was N112bn and that of the National Assembly was about N128 billion while that of the Central Bank of Nigeria was N320 billion. “And the National Assembly is an arm of the government,” he said. “If you remove the National Assembly, it would not have any impact on Nigeria’s budget.” He agreed that the cost of governance should be reduced and suggested that those interested in reducing the cost should look at where the bulk of the money is going. “The budget that the CBN governor coordinates is bigger than the budget of the National Assembly,” he said.

The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Publicity opined that incidents of governors arresting journalists and critics across the country are as a result of Nigeria having democracy without having democrats. “Criticism is a part of democracy,” he said. “And people are free to tell you anything. And so when you don’t have a democrat and you have an autocrat… when you criticize they act that way.”

He, however, encouraged young people to get involved as a way of forcing a change. “The young people are the people who are very idealistic…” he declared. “It is the young people that actually change the world. But when young people too turn around and get very complacent and then continue to blame other person then we are really in for a big problem.”

The former lecturer at Edo University said that he gets frustrated sometimes. “Sometimes, I feel personally frustrated but the reason of being a democracy, and that is what a lot of people don’t get, is that you can have your say. But when the voting is done and people have their way you have to live with the consequences of what you have done and also accept it as part of your own decision,” he concluded.

Being outspoken comes with a price, Senator Abaribe said, “You pay a price everyday for not being a conformist.”

For a video of the interview, please visit Dr. Damages’ YouTube account.

Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo is the author of "This American Life Sef."

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